Presently Gudruda entered, and she seemed pale and faint.
When he had done eating, Eric drew Gudruda on to his knee, and she sat there, resting her golden head upon his breast. But Swanhild did not come into the hall, though ever Earl Atli sought her dark face and lovely eyes of blue, and he wondered greatly how his wooing had sped. Still, at this time he spoke no more of it to Asmund.
Now Skallagrim drank much ale, and glared about him fiercely; for he had this fault, that at times he was drunken. In front of him were two thralls of Asmund’s; they were brothers, and large-made men, and they watched Asmund’s sheep upon the fells in winter. These two also grew drunk and jeered at Skallagrim, asking him what atonement he would make for those ewes of Asmund’s that he had stolen last Yule, and how it came to pass that he, a Baresark, had been overthrown of an unarmed man.
Skallagrim bore their gibes for a space as he drank on, but suddenly he rose and rushed at them, and, seizing a man’s throat in either hand, thrust them to the ground beneath him and nearly choked them there.
Then Eric ran down the hall, and, putting out his strength, tore the Baresark from them.
“This then is thy peacefulness, thou wolf!” Eric cried. “Thou art drunk!”
“Ay,” growled Skallagrim, “ale is many a man’s doom.”
“Have a care that it is not thine and mine, then!” said Eric. “Go, sleep; and know that, if I see thee thus once more, I see thee not again.”
But after this men jeered no more at Skallagrim Lambstail, Eric’s thrall.
HOW SWANHILD BID FAREWELL TO ERIC
Now all this while Asmund sat deep in thought; but when, at length, men were sunk in sleep, he took a candle of fat and passed to the shut bed where Swanhild slept alone. She lay on her bed, and her curling hair was all about her. She was awake, for the light gleamed in her blue eyes, and on a naked knife that was on the bed beside her, half hidden by her hair.
“What wouldst thou, foster-father?” she asked, rising in the couch. Asmund closed the curtains, then looked at her sternly and spoke in a low voice:
“Thou art fair to be so vile a thing, Swanhild,” he said. “Who now would have dreamed that heart of thine could talk with goblins and with were-wolves—that those eyes of thine could bear to look on murder and those white hands find strength to do the sin?”
She held up her shapely arms and, looking on them, laughed. “Would that they had been fashioned in a stronger mould,” she said. “May they wither in their woman’s weakness! else had the deed been done outright. Now my crime is as heavy upon me and nothing gained by it. Say what fate for me, foster-father—the Stone of Doom and the pool where faithless women lie? Ah, then might Gudruda laugh indeed, and I will not live to hear that laugh. See,” and she gripped the dagger at her side: “along this bright edge runs the path to peace and freedom, and, if need be, I will tread it.”